A Different Take on a Treadmill Buying Guide

Over the years, readers have asked us for a treadmill buying guide, and knowing I have done a lot of research in this area, Salty gave me the job. Except the joke’s on her: this is really an impossible task if you’re trying to be completely open and honest with your readers (read: not beholden to the manufacturers).  This is because consumer treadmills, like most home appliances, are actually made by very few companies and then virtually identical models sold under various brand names and models. For instance, ICON makes treadmills that sell under the NordicTrack, Proform, Freemotion, Reebok, Gold’s Gym, Healthrider, and other brand names.

It’s really hard to say buy THIS treadmill when the way the industry works, you might not find the same one again nor does the particular treadmill on one day represent the best value on another day. We want to bring you the most honest and objective information about treadmills. We don’t want to fall for the trap of giving you completely non-actionable buying guides for particular models.

So this is not a post that will recommend specific treadmill models, but what this post will do is give you general shopping tips and advice and our opinions of our own treadmills to help you identify the right treadmill for you.

Modern treadmills are frickin' big. I had to take a sliding glass door off the track to get mine inside
My new treadmill is so big, I had to take a sliding glass door off the track to get mine inside

Treadmill Shopping Tips

Figure out what you want to do on your treadmill and make sure you’re shopping for treadmills that meet your technical requirements. That is to say, if you’re going to run intervals on it, make sure it goes fast enough. If you are going to run Fartleks, make sure you can easily reach to change the speeds. The standard these days is 12.0 MPH max speed, and, for the most part, that is more than enough for most of us.

There are a few other things to consider like cup holders, what data is on the display, etc. Think about how you will use it and go from there.

Treadmills are big! Folding treadmills aren’t what they used to be. When the folding treadmill designs hit the consumer market in the 90’s, they folded completely vertical. Modern treadmills only fold to around 70 degrees. They take up a lot of space, even when folded, and are really hard to move. ICON’s treadmills tend to be larger than the largest standard doorway in a house, so if you don’t pay attention to the assembled dimensions, you’ll be stuck with a treadmill you’ll never be able to move again — even between rooms in your own house.

Make sure you can return it. My mother bought a new Sole treadmill last year from Sears and hated something about it. I don’t even remember what. Sears had some sort of “love it or exchange it” guarantee, so she ended up with a NordicTrack. If you end up hating it, make sure you can take it back.

Don’t forget about Craigslist. People buy treadmills with good intentions and then end up never using them. What happens to these poor neglected machines? They end up on Craigslist at bargain prices. That is how Catnip got hers. Don’t forget, you can also sort eBay by items’ distance and shop there, too.

Our Treadmills

James making out the Reebok in Hokas. Run James, Run.
Ginger’s BF, James working out on the Reebok in Hokas. Look at that hip extension! Run James, Run.

A few months ago, I bought the Reebok 910 treadmill from Costco.com online. (To illustrate my earlier point, two months later, it is not online anymore.) It is really made by ICON. It’s fine. My decision was driven by making sure I bought a plenty powerful treadmill that went up to 12 MPH so I could run intervals on it for years to come. I find it plenty powerful at interval speeds.

My complaints are that the display speed can be misleading when changing speeds. The heart rate monitor doesn’t work, but I’ve never seen a treadmill where it worked. I can’t adjust its built-in workouts. It would have been really nice to have it do my intervals automatically. The console is really high. It is much higher than my other treadmill and blocks the view of the screen when I watch TV and movies.

Also, this is a huge treadmill. It will not fit through any standard door in any house and is insanely heavy at something like 260 lbs, but I can move it myself and developed a special maneuver to get in onto a custom dolly I made to wheel it into the corner for summer storage.

Overall, it is fine. It will get me through winter and it is plenty powerful for me. It just ain’t no Woodway.

Basil has a Sole F85 living in her basement.

It has survived 3 moves and 6 brutal winters. (It collects dust in the summer.) I agree about needing a service to pick up old and install new. We’ve already planned any treadmill “upgrade” around the next time we move. We’ll ask the movers to bring it up to the main level and then it’s Craigslist time for Newman. (Uh huh. I named my treadmill Newman. And yes, I say it like Jerry Seinfeld would. But deep down, I do love Newman and would be lost without him).

Catnip bought her treadmill for $400 on Craigslist.

I had ripped the belt on my old one (a hand-me-down from friends) and bought this one within two days. I don’t think it had ever been used for running. I say this because in my email exchange with the seller I asked for make and model, max speed, max incline and he claimed that it went up to 20 MPH, so I don’t think he was a runner.

Anyway, it’s lasted 3+ years so far with many easy miles, but also a good amount faster than 10 MPH (it goes up to 12). I have no idea if the speed is accurate but it feels close enough so whatevs. My big TV is hooked up to the computer so I have access to Hulu, Netflix, etc. 

Allspice has a Vision T9500.

I don’t remember exactly what we paid for it – something around $1500 to $2000, I think. I bought it from a local dealer because they offer home delivery, set up, and maintenance. In the time we’ve had it, we’ve had to have 2 rollers replaced (different rollers, about a year apart), and since the warranty is quite good, all we’ve ever paid is labor. This thing gets heavy use when conditions outside stink – both my husband and I are runners so we use it daily. My two sons are runners, so when they’re home in the winter, it can be used by 4 people per day.

The display shows time, distance, calories burned, speed, and pace. It has quick incline and quick speed buttons, but I don’t think using those are any quicker than the regular up and down arrows. It also has heart rate sensors in the handles and a read-out for HR on the display. It goes up to 12% incline and 12 MPH (5:00 per mile).

I’ve been extremely happy with it – it’s smooth, relatively quiet, and doesn’t have as much bounce at the higher inclines as some models I’ve run on. When we wear this one out (if we haven’t moved to Arizona yet), I’ll definitely buy another Vision.

Vanilla has a Nordic Track C1750. “We bought it in winter 2013 new for $1500-2,000.  The deck has a lot of cushion, and I really like the fan built in.  It has a decline of 3% and max incline of 15%. Max speed is 12.0. We’ve had no issues with it other than we have to check the calibration every so,often to make sure it’s level. It comes with the online fitness training, and you can access the web, but we don’t use those.  Our basement is wired with a projection screen and surround sound, so movies and TVare available without having to use those features.  It also has a pretty sturdy stand for an iPad.

We did buy the 5 yr service plan for $200+. We use the TM a lot, so to us, it was worth buying the service plan — even though I tend not to buy those things.”

Salty enjoys her high end treadmill when it's not covered in toys and kids.
Salty enjoys her very solid high end treadmill when it’s not covered in toys and kids.

Salty has a higher-end Landice, that retails for around $3600. However, she got lucky and bought it at a steep discount from a friend who was moving across the country. It has a very steep incline, but no decline. It goes up to 12 MPH, although she mostly uses it for easy runs. It has customizable programs, but she never uses them. She’s pretty boring when it comes to her treadmill and prefers to do harder runs outside.

One thing I can say about this treadmill that I really like and would recommend, especially to performance-focused runners, is that all the value is in the motor and the durability of the frame and bed. The displays and programs are pretty simple and I don’t use them anyway, so I want to invest in a very solid machine, which I did.

If you have any questions about our treadmill experiences or buying a treadmill, just ask in the comments. And if you own a treadmill tell us what you love and hate about it!

I'm a subelite marathon runner, but I didn't come from a collegiate running background. Instead I'm trying to break into competitive running in my thirties. I write about chasing the dream of running with the elite girls and tell stories of adventures along the way. Watch me chase the next big thing.

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  1. I’ll second the bit about figuring out what you want to do and buying from there.
    Incline and decline were most important to me.

    I wound up with a NordicTrack incline trainer – 40% incline (stoopid!) and 6% decline, top speed 12.0mph, built-in fan, and a display that shows progress around a 1/4-mile track oval (which I’ve found entertaining, motivating, and helpful).
    It’s not quiet, neither is it built for running (with a shorter deck that keeps me from getting lazy and drifting back). But, it meets my needs and I’d likely replace it with another incline trainer if I had to. Fortunately, I’ve been able to service it myself, replacing rollers and the PC power supply as wear/tear and flooding have dictated.

  2. This post is very timely for me. I have a Sole F85 (like Basil), which I bought in January 2008. I purchased it because it has a longer deck and a powerful engine, so I knew it could withstand a lot of miles during the winter months, which is the only time I use it. Unfortunately, last year the belt was really showing wear and it started cutting out a bit. So I started researching new treadmills. I didn’t need any of the new bells and whistles and found myself looking at Sole again. But why buy a new one when I have one in my basement with a supposedly pretty awesome warranty? Feeling guilty about the possibility of tossing the old on in a landfill, I called someone to come check it out. Turns out, pretty much everything but the frame needs to be replaced. The good news is that Sole has a lifetime warranty on the most expensive parts – the motor and the deck (and the frame actually). The bad news is that (even though this is not advertised on their web site), the warranty only applies to the first owner and if you register it. I never registered it, so the repair guys said unless I could show proof of ownership, it was out of warranty and would cost almost $1000 to fix. Well, I certainly didn’t have a receipt from 7 years ago, but fortunately I found an old blog post from the day I bought it! I called Sole and pleaded to get coverage. They said since I had the date of purchase, place of purchase and serial number, they’d register it for me. Boom! So now I am getting it totally refurbished for around $300. That’s pretty great customer service and I hope I get another strong 7 years out of it.

      1. I think it is BS that they will only give the warranty to the first owner. If it is a lifetime warranty, it should be a lifetime warranty period. I was ready to argue that with them since I didn’t have proof of purchase, but fortunately they were very accommodating and it wasn’t necessary.

  3. Another consideration is the height of your ceilings. The treadmill will lift you 6″ or more off the ground. Then add in the vertical motion from running.
    I have mine in the basement and I can only walk on it.

    1. the one that decline are even taller.
      but yes, ceiling height was the consideration that has kept all of my exercise stuff out of the basement. I couldn’t run on a treadmill or do a tuck jump without hitting my head on the ceiling.

  4. My treadmill running is done in a gym, where my preferred brand is Woodway. To me, they feel much easier on the feet, joints and tendons than a regular treadmill. I don’t know how expensive they are, however.

    1. First comment to mention Woodway. You are the winner! Seriously though, I have my ebay alerts set. One day I’m going to break down and buy one.

      The Times article about Annie Bersagel training mostly inside in Norway with a picture on a treadmill… She was on a woodway.

      When I ran on one at my first school, it didn’t have cup holders! I use to have to rig up a hat to hold my water bottle when I ran on one, and I would line up the rest of my water bottles on the side tracks.

  5. I have a pacemaster gold elite…it is 9 years old and has well over 10,000 miles. I’ve only had one repair done on it (the deck broke in the first year) and one tune up (last week). It has survived 5 moves with no problems and I have used it for every type of running workout imaginable. The treadmill repair man said that PaceMaster actually put themselves out of business because their treadmills are simply too sturdy and don’t need replacing for years!

    When I bought this ‘mill I put on my running clothes and headed down to the exercise equipment supply store and ran on every treadmill that went up to 12.0 mph. I chose the pacemaster because it felt the sturdiest to me. Much to my delight it was also the cheapest option, coming in at about $1800.

    Given all of this, my recommendations to runners looking for a good treadmill are 1: try before you buy! Get on the treadmill if possible and crank it up. Way up. Does it vibrate? Bounce excessively? Make an unreasonable amount of noise? 2: The most expensive treadmill isn’t necessarily the best one. The one that feels best to you is the best one. And 3: If you are buying from craigslist and see a pacemaster for sale, put it at the top of your list! My repair guy recently tuned up a 17 year old one that’s been heavily used and is in great shape.

    Happy running!

  6. I LOVE my treadmill. Landice L8 (longer belt) with the cheapest console, bought 8+ years ago, has been in 3 homes at this point. (has a lifetime and transferable warranty) I had the movers move it once (they cracked the plastic housing over the engine – not pretty but no effect) and had Landice-approved folks move it the last two times. The thing is a tank. I do almost all (seriously, easily 99% of them) on it, and it’s gotten me – in 2014 – to 3 BQs and 2 PRs! It felt horribly expensive when I got it, but has proven to be one of my best-ever purchase decisions.

    I could use some help/advice though – I need to train on decline for Boston and that’s something it doesn’t do. I’ve read/watched video about putting boards under the back to create decline (then you use incline to get 0 & above). Anybody done it? Any recs on how high the boards need to go, best type of wood, anything?

    I’d want to put boards in place & leave them for months. My incline goes to 10 or 12%, can’t recall – for Boston I need to train 5-6% decline AND 5-6% incline. My DH calculated that could call for up to 5″ thick boards. (I also need to hire someone to actually help me with the boards, to lift the tmill while I slide boards under and test out – it’s so heavy, and placed with back close to wall, that I don’t want to try to move it or have DH do it, too much injury potential.)

    I’ve seen people loving their Woodways online – @runemz being an example, she’s done 24 hour runs on hers. But I don’t think it inclines or declines and it’s REALLY expensive. I may try to find a gym that lets me try one, but I’m happy with mine.

    1. You can’t get outside for long runs? I think downhills on roads would better prep your legs for the pounding. I’d also work on strengthening your core and quads. I’ll do a little research to find out other things you can do to prepare for the course.

      To me it just wouldn’t be worth the hassle to do that to the mill. I’m curious what others think, as I might just be lazy and cheap 🙂 also could doing that put you out of warranty?

      1. Ok. I did a little digging. There are 2 reasons to include downhill running for Boston training: 1) to build quad strength so you don’t shred them by mile 13 (been there!) and 2) to work on downhill running form. The first reason is more important. Where you can really improve your downhill running form enough in one training cycle to make a difference is really questionable. Plus, I do not think you can improve your downhill form on a jacked up treadmill such that it will necessarily translate to the roads of Boston. Treadmills are awesome, but they are different than outside running enough that efficient form on a treadmill is not necessarily efficient for the road. It can very well be good enough, but it’s not the same and throw in something very specific like downhill running and I just don’t think it’s worth doing that to your mill for form.

        As for strength, there are other things you can do besides downhill running. I would try doing a hard quad strengthening workout on Saturday so that I did my long runs on Sunday on sore quads. This would strengthen your quads and get you conditioned to run on tired sore quads. You could maybe start doing this the day before an easy shorter day and work up to doing it before long runs. I’d definitely start now with quad strengthening and I wouldn’t be shy about it. I’d also work on total body strengthening too.

        Anyway, if you can get out to get in some downhill running do it, but it personally don’t think I’d go through all that trouble to do that to my treadmill. Especially because you’d have to use a pretty hefty incline just to get it flat again – it’s not like you’d be in a situation where you could lift it and lower it at will. You be stuck with it like that until you rehired movers!

        1. JD, the Man said, “A nice finding (that we had not thought about ahead of time) was that when the over-ground run was with a tail wind equal to running speed, then VO2 was equal to VO2 on the TM, which sure suggests that the only difference between TM and over-ground running is because of the air-resistance you create when running outside. Stride rates were identical when over-ground was compared to TM. For some reason running on the TM resulted in a slightly higher HR than over ground, but we decided that was due to it usually being hotter on the TM unless you have a fan blowing hot air away from your body.”

          I use to agree that the treadmill was harder than running outside, but now that I’m doing intervals and 8mph easy runs on it with somewhat decent mechanics, It really feels the same as running outside. Well, except for one very cool thing: it hols consistent pace. I can’t wait to try some marathon pace workout runs on it.

          Still want a woodway. Some day. My ebay alerts are set.